Thursday, November 8, 2012

Smuggling and the Haunted Jamaica Inn

Cornwall’s coastline was an ideal location for the smugglers that plied their trade in the 18th century in the UK. Its long expanse of isolated rocky coastline allowed these smugglers to provide untaxed tea, brandy, gin, rum and tobacco unhindered. 

These cheap goods were so appreciated that the locals considered many of these smugglers to be heroes. In fact, up until the 1800’s these smugglers openly transferred their contraband goods often with help from these remote Cornish communities.

Jamaica Inn immortalized in Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name * located on the windswept wastes of Bodmin Moor was a well- known stop for these smugglers. The Jamaica Inn was built in 1750 as a staging post where stagecoaches stopped to change horses on their long arduous journey over the surrounding moors. 

Later, in 1778, the inn was expanded to include a coach house, stables and tack room. The inn’s name was probably derived from the rum that was smuggled through the thick mists to its isolated doors. It is believed that half of the brandy and a quarter of all the tea smuggled into the UK was landed on the coast just west of this inn.

These smugglers plied their trade for over one hundred years along the Cornish coast. It is estimated that during the boom years over 500,000 gallons of French brandy were smuggled in each year. 

Ships from the Far East also brought in thousands of dollars worth of untaxed china, silk and cotton goods. With a hefty tea tax imposed by the British government these smugglers provided relief. The tea they smuggled was just one sixth of the going cost of tea at that time. They provided French Brandy at one fifth the cost.

By the early 1800s the smuggling trade was curtailed because there were more revenue men and they were organized. The smugglers now had to drop their contraband off in remote shoreline caves where they waited to move their goods further inland when the coast was clear. If caught, these smugglers faced stiffer penalties. They were often deported to Australia or hanged. This slowly ended the trade.

During the height of the smuggling trade a mysterious murder occurred at the Jamaica Inn, the victim of this murder is said to still haunt the inn today. A stranger stood at the bar drinking ale when he was summoned outside. He left his drink half finished and stepped out into cold night. This was the last time he was seen alive. 

The next morning his frozen body was found on the moor. How he died and the identity of his assailant remain a mystery to this day but some speculate that he was most likely a revenue man since he was a stranger.

Several previous landlords and patrons of the inn over the years have heard footsteps at night tramping along the passageway that leads to the bar. Many feel it is this dead mans spirit returning to finish his drink. This ghost has also been seen walking through a solid wall. But he is most often seen outside the inn sitting on a nearby wall. 

In 1911 the press covered these sightings. Many witnesses reported seeing this transparent figure sitting on the wall at night, he never moved and would not acknowledge people’s greetings. Their descriptions of this ghostly figure are said to match exactly the description of the man who was murdered over a century before.

All of the ghostly activity at the Jamaica Inn happens at night. Many modern day witnesses have reported hearing a phantom coach drawn by horses enter the inn’s courtyard at night. They state that they hear the horses’ hooves hitting the original rough cobblestones in what used to be the posting area of the inn. This horse drawn coach is never seen.

The Jamaica Inn is located halfway between Bodmin and Launceston just off the A30 at Bolventor. The inn still caters to overnight guests, serves meals and you can enjoy drinks in the Smugglers Bar where the ghost has been seen and heard. The inn hosts regular ghost hunts.

* Part of the inn today is a museum. The former coach house/stable is used as a tribute to the writer Daphne du Maurier who in the winter of 1930 stayed at the inn as a guest. It is said that the atmosphere at the inn inspired her to write her novel Jamaica Inn

This novel is a classic entertaining read. It is about a young innocent female who is sent to live at her uncle’s inn. In the course of the story she discovers her uncle is involved with several unsavory characters that deal in the smuggling trade. This is fitting since this is the actual history of the inn.

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